Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Diwali: Gold Edition

If you are one of the haters who thinks that all reggae sounds the same, then volume #27 in Greensleeve's Rhythm Album series will prove your point. A uniquely Jamaican phenomenon, one-rhythm albums are compilations of tracks built around the same rhythm (ie riddim or beat). In other words, they are collections of songs that all sound pretty much the same.
"Pretty much" but not entirely the same, and therein lies the appeal of one-rhythm albums: their ability to offer different variations on the same musical foundation. It's a testament to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Jamaican artists and producers, and proof that a little copyright infringement can be great for creativity.
The Diwali: Gold Edition offers 22 takes by 21 artists on Lenky's Diwali rhythm. The key to a successful rhythm album is starting off with good source material, and the Diwali beat is rock solid. Built around handclaps, it's a galloping, tribal beat with an Indian flair that manages not to wear out it's welcome over the course of the album.
The beat first came into prominence in 2002, and was used in both Sean Paul's "Get Busy" and Lumidee's "Never Leave You," both included here. It was also used in slow jams like Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go" and Crissy D.'s "Make It Real Good."

The majority of the tracks, however, feature DJ's riffing over the rhythm. Sometimes this is mind-numbing, like on "Party Time" with Danny English and Egg Nog, but it's mostly done well. Tanya Stephens gives a harsh verbal beatdown to an ex on "Can't Touch Me No More;" Bounty Killer spits some righteous anger on "Sufferer;" Elephant Man manages to work in "99 Red Balloons" on his "Elephant Message;" and Spragga Benz sounds suitably off the rails on "Gonna Fight."

I liked the DJ tracks the best, partially because I like the dancehall style more. They also seemed to stay truest to what I feel the essence of dancehall is: letting the DJ work over an existing riddim until it is entirely his/her own. Mega Banton only adds a few musical touches to the Diwali beat on "It's OK," but he owns it with his melodic chanting.

The album ends with Lenky's "Xm24," as well as an unadulterated version of the beat so that any aspiring producers/DJs can take their own stab at it. Admittedly, 22 songs in row built around the same rhythm is a little hard to take in one sitting, but it's enjoyable a few songs at a time. If you are curious about one rhythm albums, or can't get enough of the Diwali beat, this disc is a good place to start.

Article first published as Music Review: Diwali: Gold Edition on Blogcritics.

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